- Socialized gasoline: The bureaucratic miracle of Vehicle-to-Grid—Thursday, April 25th, 2013
Imagine a world where Shell Oil is running out of gasoline for the week and needs more in order to keep some of their biggest clients’ fleets running. So they go around to every home in the neighborhood overnight, siphon off half of the gasoline they find in everyone’s car, maybe leave a couple of bucks on the doorstep, and then sell that gasoline to their clients.
You wake up in the morning and need to get somewhere, but your car doesn’t have enough gasoline and all you have is some money to refill it—but how do you get it refilled in time?
Wind-generated electricity has a lot of problems. One of the biggest is how unreliable it is. Because of that unreliability, and because it doesn’t generate a whole lot of power to begin with, it is best used to supplement existing power sources, but unfortunately wind tends to be most abundant when supplemental energy is least needed—at night.
Storing wind energy for later use means massive arrays of batteries, but batteries come with their own problems, mainly that they need to be recycled and replaced often; wind energy is already environmentally iffy enough and on the edge of being too costly to be worth it; add in the need to safely dispose of the hazardous chemicals in batteries and the cost of replacing batteries regularly, and it rarely makes economic sense to replace fossil fuels with wind.
Somewhere along the line, someone must have had the brilliant idea of finding a way to take batteries off of the books. I suspect initially it went something like, make homeowners and renters pay for the batteries and their replacement; and then the costs can be ignored as just another part of buying property.
But how to convince people to pay the massive expense and time of buying huge batteries, maintaining them, and properly disposing of them?
I wonder when the first person tasked with solving that problem took a look at the battery arrays used in electric cars and had a light bulb go off.
On the surface, using electric cars to make use of wind energy isn’t that bad of an idea. For most people, after all, electric cars need to be charged up overnight, contrary to most other power uses. It’s very much a solution (wind energy) in search of a problem (cars that take lengthy times to “fill” in order to make short trips) but it makes a vague amount of sense as long as you don’t look too closely at it and its alternatives.
- The dog that barked under the lamp-post—Sunday, March 3rd, 2013
“People have an inherent tendency to focus on visible and obvious factors when analyzing a situation. This can result in biased data sets and inaccurate conclusions and decisions. When analyzing a situation, ask yourself the following question: Are there dogs that aren’t barking?”
Lamp-post research—looking where the light is rather than where the data is—is one of the best ways to make major mistakes in technology policy and in policy in general.(Hat tip to Maetenloch at Ace of Spades HQ.)
- Enable AirPrint for all connected Mac printers—Monday, December 31st, 2012
I almost never need to print from the iPad. I’ve owned it for almost two years now and while I’ve occasionally thought it might be nice to print, I’ve never felt the need even so much as to do a Google search on AirPrint software for the Mac. The iPad is a futuristic device: among its many other features, it’s a portable paper library. I print because I need to carry the printout somewhere I can’t bring my computer. But if I’m looking at something on the iPad, why would I need to print?
I finally ran into a reason this morning: a local movie theater that does reservations and sends the tickets by email but wants a printout at the booth. I really did not want to have to get out of bed and go log into the iMac just to print this out. Obviously, I was going to have to no matter what since I had no other options, but I finally decided to search for options to fix this in the future.
I came up with three options: Printopia, FingerPrint, and handyPrint. This is not going to be an in-depth review of them; while Printopia appears to be the favorite of professional reviewers, it also costs $20, which seemed a bit steep just to broker between the iMac and AirPrint. FingerPrint also costs $20 and doesn’t have the same following Printopia has.1 However, handyPrint2 is much less expensive: you’re asked to donate whatever you think it’s worth to you, a minimum of $1.00.3
I was a little leery of handyPrint at first, because the Printopia site says that one of its features is “No Need To Modify Your Operating System” and explains this feature as “Beware of printing solutions that re-configure your Mac’s printing system. Printopia runs independently from printer sharing, and does not modify your Mac or iOS operating system in any way.”
- PHP tutorial vastly improved—Friday, August 17th, 2012
I have finally gotten around to updating my PHP tutorial. Our PHP class came up again in the rotation this week, and I decided I needed to take this as an opportunity to rewrite the tutorial. I wrote the old one so long ago I don’t remember1.
It occurred to me a couple of years ago that it might be easier to teach newcomers how to program using classes rather than a mess of functions and variables. For one thing, it would make it much easier to duplicate the same functionality for a different purpose, such as making the poll be about presidents rather than about imaginary characters.2
When I first wrote the tutorial, PHP was either still using or had just stopped using register_globals on by default, and if classes existed they were rudimentary. Today, it is by far easier to develop PHP code using classes than without them. We also have a much better concept of what it means to write code around HTML. We make our HTML pages templates that include functionality from elsewhere; any complex code is in include files (or in template engines) and only easy-to-read flow control goes directly in HTML pages.
The new tutorial shows how to handle simple forms, progressing through a favorite color to a simple poll system that can be customized to any list of items. It also shows how to extend the poll system to store data in a SQLite database instead of in a flat file.
- Baseball in the rain—Friday, July 27th, 2012
I have very few photos of myself; there are huge swaths of my life for which there is no photographic record. One of the things I don’t think I have any pictures of is my first computer, a TRS-80 Model I that I bought used in the summer of 1980 or 1981. It was a very simple computer and could be programmed in “Level 2 BASIC”.
The computer was amazing just for what it was. It was also amazing that a kid could save up on his paper route to buy one complete with monitor and printer. Nerd that I was, I’d been saving up for a programmable calculator; when I reached that goal I realized, only a few more months and I could have one of those computer things I’d been seeing advertised in the same magazines as the calculators.
I set my sights on the TRS-80 because it was affordable, and because the text on the screen was much crisper than alternatives such as the Apple II that used a radio frequency modulator to convert the video to a radio signal to be picked up by a normal television set. The TRS-80 was a standard television set, but the tuner was replaced with a direct interface.
The reason that the keyboard in that photo is so big is that the computer was in the keyboard. That was standard for the time, mainly because people used their television sets as monitors. In this case, the computer is both in the keyboard and under the monitor. Because after selling a baseball program to Hobby Computer Handbook for $150, I took that $150 and bought a $170 expansion board.1 The expansion board brought the computer up from 16 kilobytes to 48 kilobytes of RAM!
It surprised me, at the time, what a big deal it was to own a personal computer. One of our science classes actually took a field trip to our basement2 to see it. When I brought in a school paper on a printout rather than typewritten3 or handwritten, another student remarked that they wished they had a computer to write their papers for them. Fortunately, the teacher knew the computer hadn’t written it.
- Still-life with electronics—Monday, June 11th, 2012
I am currently recovering from a much longer trip than the one on which I purchased this combo multi-outlet. It’s been a lifesaver. In this photo, it is recharging an iPad, two cell phones, a laptop, a video camera, and a still camera. Due to the bricks that the cell phones use, the power outlets are full, but that’s still six devices charging, with an empty USB port for the iPod if needed.
A lot of outlets in houses seem to be upside down. I wonder why that happens?
- Lincoln Freed Me—Saturday, April 21st, 2012
I’m going to have more to say about cross-country driving and buying a used car later. But iowahawk’s Earth Week Cruise-In is an earth week worth supporting, so I thought I’d get my boat into the dock, so to speak. At 25 miles per gallon highway a 2005 Lincoln Town Car Signature Limited may not qualify. But I make up for it by driving to Texas and back on a regular basis, so I’m hoping to squeak by.
The video here is an August 2011 trip from San Diego to Dallas to Georgetown, Louisiana, and back through Sylvan Beach, San Antonio, and Austin, back up to Dallas, and then back to San Diego by way of Las Cruces. It was 4,433.3 miles and used 196.0 gallons of gas. At the time I thought gas was ridiculously expensive at an average of $3.577 per gallon. The high was $3.90 in San Diego, and the low was $3.34 in Eloy, Arizona. Coming back from the record shop today, gas was $4.49 here, almost a dollar higher.
Texas is big. From San Diego to Austin is a two-day drive. The first day I go from California through Arizona and almost all the way through New Mexico—Las Cruces, which is at the border of New Mexico and Texas. The second day is only an hour less—and it’s Texas all the way. I love those Texas speed limits. The bbq is pretty damn good, too.
- The Star Trek Experience: Stanley Jaffe was right—Monday, April 9th, 2012
There’s a great story making the rounds about what could have been an amazing attraction in Las Vegas. The basic story is that, in 1992, Vegas was looking for a plan to revitalize the Vegas downtown area so that it could compete with the Vegas strip. Two plans floated to the top: one of them an innovative, epic experience, the other a sort of mini-strip leveraging what was already working on the real strip.
Everyone loved the innovative, epic experience and it was the sure-fire winner… until a far-away bureaucrat whose permission was necessary to move forward said “no”. So everyone settled for the more boring, time-tested project instead.
The two projects were a life-sized Starship Enterprise from Star Trek vs. the Fremont Street Experience. The far-away bureaucrat was Stanley Jaffe. Asked to approve the licensing on the Paramount end for the Star Trek franchise, Jaffe said something like:
“You know, this is a major project. You’re going to put a full-scale ENTERPRISE up in the heart of Las Vegas. And on one hand that sounds exciting. But on another hand, it might not be a great idea for us—for Paramount.”
Everyone in the room was stunned, most of all, me, because I could see where this was going.
“In the movie business, when we produce a big movie and it’s a flop—we take some bad press for a few weeks or a few months, but then it goes away. The next movie comes out and everyone forgets. But THIS—this is different. If this doesn’t work—if this is not a success—it’s there, forever…”
I remember thinking to myself “oh my god, this guy does NOT get it…”
And he said “I don’t want to be the guy that approved this and then it’s a flop and sitting out there in Vegas forever.”
This really shouldn’t have been a surprise, however. The kind of person who would approve a life-sized Starship Enterprise license is not the kind of person who would do well in studio administration. Studios are well-known for extreme caution. Even in 1992, movie studios had to navigate a thicket of confusing regulations and vague laws. In the case of movies, one source of vague and confusing law is copyright.